Dr. James Melius, Advocate for Workers’ Health, Dies at 69

When he testified on Capitol Hill in 2009, Dr. Melius cited the case of Leon Heyward, an inspector for the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, who had helped evacuate disabled co-workers from ground zero and later learned he had sarcoidosis, a respiratory disease.

“His disease got worse,” Dr. Melius said in his 2009 testimony. “He had to stop working. He was denied workers’ compensation. He struggled to get by and needed to move to a smaller apartment. He later developed lymphoma and died last year.”

An autopsy later ruled Mr. Heyward’s death a 9/11-related homicide, Dr. Melius said.

“There are many more people,” he added, “who have suffered, who have become ill, and we need a system in place to provide not only the medical programs we have, but also the assistance to them, economic assistance.”

Photo

Dr. Melius testifying at a United States Department of Labor hearing in 2014.

Credit
New York State Laborers Union

Dr. Melius also helped devise the medical treatment and monitoring program that the legislation created. (It also applies to those affected by the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and the crash of the hijacked plane in Shanksville, Pa.)

“He was a rock to lean on,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat who was the lead House sponsor of the law, said in a telephone interview. “He was the principal force for building the science that 9/11 caused these illnesses and deaths.”

The law was named for James Zadroga, a New York City police detective whose death in 2006 from respiratory failure was linked to the dust he inhaled during rescue and recovery work at the World Trade Center.

James Malcolm Melius was born on June 16, 1948, in Great Barrington, Mass., and grew up across the New York border in Copake Falls. His father, Norman, was a farmer, and his mother, the former Helen Hodgkins, was a first-grade teacher.

After graduating from Brown University and the University of Illinois School of Medicine, he received a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of Illinois School of Public Health.

A residency in occupational medicine at Cook County Hospital started him on a series of positions dedicated to safeguarding the welfare of workers. He worked in Cincinnati at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; and in Albany for the New York State…

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